Sully is a good representation of how I want people to react when enthralled by a story I’ve written:
But more often than not, I get a reaction more like this:
Or at least, I did. I couldn’t understand why my writing produced these less-than-stellar responses. I had meticulously worded every sentence. I’d made sure there were exciting parts. I had parceled out backstory, setting, and exposition so the reader could understand what the heck was going on. So why did eyes glaze over while reading my book? Why did MY eyes glaze over while reading my own work?
The problem, I finally found out, was that my scenes didn’t turn.
I was cramming all that exposition in right out of the gate, so the reader knew absolutely everything … which meant there wasn’t anything to find out. The scenes were just tiny chronicles where the main character set out to do something and accomplished it with flying colors. Nothing ever happened that surprised him. And consequently, nothing ever happened to surprise the reader.
I wasn’t withholding information, and revealing it methodically.
I wasn’t letting the story spin in new directions. It was always chugging along the straightforward track where I’d dropped my reader.
I wasn’t letting my scenes TURN.
To illustrate what I mean, here’s an example of a great scene with a great turn from a wonderful movie: Beauty and the Beast
*Opening music that makes me want to cry from how beautiful it is*
“Once upon a time, in a faraway land a young prince lived in a shining castle…” (Action: Apparently the world takes action to make sure this prince lives a cushy existence.)
“Although he had everything his heart desired, the prince was spoiled, selfish, and unkind.” (Reaction: And he acts like a brat anyway.)
“But then, one winter’s night, and old beggar woman came to the castle and offered a single rose in return for shelter from the bitter cold.” (Action)
“Repulsed by her haggard appearance, the prince sneered at the gift, and turned the old woman away.” (Reaction)
“But she warned him, not to be deceived by appearances, for beauty is found within.” (Action)
“And when he dismissed her again …” (Reaction)
“The old woman’s ugliness melted away to reveal a beautiful enchantress.” (Action)
“The prince tried to apologize …” (Reaction)
“But it was too late, for she had seen that there was no love in his heart. And as punishment, she transformed him into a hideous beast and placed a powerful spell on the castle, and all who lived there.” (Action)
“Ashamed of his monstrous form, the beast concealed himself inside his castle, with a magic mirror as his only window to the outside world.” (Reaction)
“The rose she had offered was truly an enchanted rose, that would bloom until his 21st year. If he could learn to love another, and earn their love in return, by the time the last petal fell, then the spell would be broken. If not, he would be doomed to remain a beast for all time.” (Action)
“As the years passed, he fell into despair, and lost all hope.” (Reaction)
“For who could ever learn to love a beast?”
Turn: The 6th beat is the turn. The story has spun in a new direction, the direction the WHOLE STORY will motor towards.
Revelation: There’s the big one of the scene turn, but I love how every action and reaction in this prologue feels like a revelation. Each one feels like it could be a scene on it’s own, but it’s told in a just few words, with beautiful imagery. There’s no fluff in this, nothing unnecessary, everything is perfectly needed. (Sorry, I just really love this opening. I can remember sitting in my little wicker rocking chair when I was four watching this in awe. This movie is one of the reasons I’m story obsessed.)
NOW let’s remove all curiosity and surprise from this scene.
We’ll take away the atmosphere of “all is not as it seems”, the “seeking and learning significant information” feeling, the sense that we’re climbing to something significant. Instead of withholding and revealing snippets of information, after gradual beat-by-beat escalation of curiosity, we’ll dump all information right away. We’ll take this beautiful scene, and make it distinctly not a scene by removing all traces of a turn.
So! The purpose of this “section” of story is to communicate necessary information. What info? The guy used to be a terrible prince. Someone cursed him to be a beast. His castle and the people who live there are also cursed. He’s got a rose that will bloom until he’s 21. He’s supposed to fall in love with someone and get that person to love him back. Or he’s going to be a beast forevermore. So, let’s give it a whirl.
Let’s say it opens up on Lumiere and the Beast. They’re just hanging out in the West Wing, the Beast watching the rose sparkle, Lumiere extinguishing and reigniting his left candle/hand for something to do.
LUMIERE: “So Master, it’s been years since you were turned into a beast and the castle staff was turned into objects.”
L: “I wish you hadn’t have upset that enchantress, and been a bit kinder.”
B: “Me too. Don’t know how.”
L: “Now our only hope to return to our human forms, is if you fall in love and get that person to fall in love with you.”
B: *Noncommittal grunt*
L: “Better happen soon, before that last petal on the magical rose falls. When you turn 21, it’s going to fall. And if you haven’t learned to love by then, well, we’re stuck.”
B: “I’m aware."
Well, that was extraordinarily awful.
So what about these scenes is different? (Besides one being a work of art and the other being agony in text form.)
– One withholds information and reveals it slowly, turning the story at the end.
– One is just an info dump.
So how can a turn be accomplished? There are four types of turns:
– Amplified Curiosity
– New Insight
– Spin in New Direction
A SURPRISE turn is the difference between what the character expects and what actually happens, surprising them, surprising the reader/audience that is enthralled by your story. A CURIOSITY turn is when a new mystery is presented to the reader, increasing their drive to find out what happens next. An INSIGHT one is when a scene ends by solving a mystery, answering a question that the audience has been wondering about. And a SPIN is just that, a turn that jolts the story into a new unexpected direction.
And how do they work in a scene?
The turn happens at the end. It’s the point of the scene. Everything’s leading to it. Think of it as the period punctuation mark on the end of the sentence that is your scene. But really your reader is anticipating that turn throughout the scene. It’s this anticipation and “gradual illumination” that’s crucial to a story turn. This is the wonderful curious feeling that keeps us turning pages. That sense that “all is not as it seems, and if I keep reading I’ll find out the truth.” which is so intoxicating. And this is accomplished with beats, the exchanges of action and reaction, each acting like a escalation on a roller coaster, each increasing anticipation for the drop.
Turns and revelation anticipation are rather magical when you think about it. They really are (as Robert McKee says) the substance of story. (Or they’re magical to me. I said I was obsessed. Blame this movie!)
Now I’m going to go watch Beauty and the Beast again.
What is your headcanon for Sam's first interaction with Sully?
[ oops I ficced; the prompt was just too good. ♥ ]
“Come on, Sammy! Buck up. We’ll be home before dinner tonight, huh?”
Sam had clung to that promise like a lifeline.
That was three days ago. Neither John nor Dean have contacted him since. All of their protocols have gone unobserved.
Sam has gone from something must be holding them up all the way to oh God what if they’re hurt, or worse? Recently, he’s come to acknowledge that they’re probably not alive anymore. He’s tried to make himself contemplate what he’ll do when they never come back. Pastor Jim’s number crashes around in the back of his head, insistent and sharp as glass, but Sam can’t call. If he does, it’ll make this all real. They’ll really be gone.
He’s fine. He can get through this.
Well. Maybe not with his dignity intact. He’s small for his age and he knows it, but if one more well-meaning adult asks him if she can help Sam find his mommy, he’s gonna lose it.
In the aisles of a dusty, near-dead gas-station, Sam sniffs tears away when he sees two boxes of Mac’n’Cheese on an otherwise sparsely-populated metal shelf, and muffles sobs into the motel blanket behind the door with the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the outside knob.
He doesn’t sleep much at night. When he wakes, gasping, from restless naps, he pushes himself off the bed onto his knees and prays as long as he can, like his faith might bring them back, like God might hear him and answer him.
Monday comes, and he can’t bring himself to eat much. He steals a few bruised apples from a nearby hotel’s half-assed attempt at a continental breakfast and eats part of one but barely manages to keep it down when he starts thinking of Black Dogs, of Dean and John strewn over rocks in the woods, open eyes empty and unblinking while predators feast on their bodies.
He doesn’t manage anything but water for lunch and dinner. Funny thing is, he has plenty of cash. He’s got a handful of dollars sewn into the lining of his jacket for those days when Dean comes home downtrodden and empty-handed from the card tables. He’s heard enough from old women in supermarket aisles to know how to make the dollars stretch: peanut butter on a slice of white bread will fill him up for hours and doesn’t need to be refrigerated.
Even if he doesn’t have access to a stove, he can make do. If he wants to be indulgent, an age-old jar of crystallized honey from a discount-goods store will never go bad. The off-brand sugarless shredded wheat cereal is also filling. He has a plastic bag filled with every variety of truck-stop condiments on the planet—ketchup, mustard, relish, ranch dressing, barbecue sauce—and they’ll work for a salty snack in a pinch, fool his tastebuds into feeling sated while he puts together something more substantial. He has food, knows a thousand ways to get it if he needs to. He just can’t. Not while he knows they could be out there, dead or dying. Not while he’s in this hellish limbo, waiting for news.
On Tuesday, he finds himself dizzy, half-off the sidewalk in front of a speeding red Chevy, when a warm hand closes around his shoulder and pulls him close just as the blocky car zooms past inches away from his sandal-clad feet.
“Oh, Sam,” the voice says, warm like nothing he’s ever heard, and he’s so scattered and grief-torn he doesn’t think to wonder why the person knows his name.
He’s on his butt on the sidewalk, shaking a little from adrenaline and the fact that he didn’t bother with breakfast this morning, and the afternoon sun is bright white and wobbling in the sky. The warmth against him is the only thing that steadies him. A soft hand twines in his and leads him back to the hotel room, retrieving an apple and a jar of peanut butter from his bag and setting a disposable plastic motel cup filled with water on the bedside table.
That’s when he squints into the semi-darkness and sees a shy half-smile, warm and genuine, over a set of rainbow suspenders and a sunny yellow shirt.
Sam kindly doesn’t tell the smiling man that his outfit is weird as hell. The smiling man kindly doesn’t comment on the tears in Sam’s eyes and the way he wipes them on his jacket sleeves.
“You need to come back,” he says, “Patterson, Reade, Tasha… they’re missing.”
She stared at him, wide eyed and terrified. “Do you think Roman-” she starts to act but he shakes his head. “We don’t know,” he quickly says.
He takes a deep breath before he continues. “We don’t know,” he repeats, “but whoever it was… they had me too for a while.”
He ignores her last, the way she tries to reach for him briefly but then pulls back. He was not supposed to be in danger anymore. That was why she left. She left to protect him. “Kurt,” she whispers before he continues.
“We were ambushed… didn’t know what hit us,” he explains, “next thing I know, it’s three days later and I am in a hospital. No sign of the others. But they left a message.”
“A message?” she asks.
He nods and then reaches for the bottom of his shirt, pulling it over his head slowly. He then turns around, revealing a tattoo on his back that had never been there before.
“Somebody clearly wants your attention.”
She stares at the tattoo that matches the one she has on her back perfectly. Except his says “Jane Doe FBI”.
I just want to give a genuine thanks to @this-too-too-sullied-flesh for not only being willing to share spoilers from the musical episode, but for being so open and inclusive about it. She literally took pages of notes (what a nerd), and honestly it’s just a really nice thing she’s doing, and a very generous way of going about it, so thanks bro, forreal!
When you daydream about the “Good Ol’ Days” where you had no back pain and didn’t have to go on crazy life-threatening treasure hunts with Nate like seriously Sully “died” in two of them wtf Nate keep the moustache man safe goddamnit:
When Rafe Adler is talking shit about you to your face but you realize he’s like a tiny yapping chihuahua so you can’t take him seriously:
When you’re humoring the tiny chihuahua by politely listening to him talk shit about you but then he bites you out of nowhere and you don’t know whether to scream or cry:
When you see the crazy manifesting in the tiny chihuahua’s eyes and you realize it’s too late to run and you got more than you bargained for:
When you finally get away from the crazy yet tiny chihuahua but you’re terrified that he’ll come back for revenge:
When you know for a fact that the crazy yet tiny chihuahua will come back for revenge no matter what you do so you decide to make the most of the situation and mess with him:
When you smile at the crazy yet tiny chihuahua secretly hoping that he’ll forgive and forget even though you know he won’t and you’re fucked:
When you realize you need to flee the country and change your name in order to hide from the crazy yet tiny chihuahua:
When you remember you left the stove on at home and you’re on the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean:
When you’re in school and you really have to sneeze but everyone around you is taking a test so you try to hold it in by making the face: